HAZEL PETHIG, COSTUME DESIGNER EXTRAORDINAIRE!
by Hans ten Cate
Wednesday, 20 August 1997

For over 27 years, Hazel Pethig has been the loyal costume designer to the Monty Python boys, even long after the troupe had begun their separate careers.

Not only was Hazel the costume designer for the Monty Python's Flying Circus television series, she also did the costumes for no less than six Python-related films, including the recently released Fierce Creatures. (see Hazel's filmography, right)

ON MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS

"It was still called Owl Stretching Time when I got involved, so I realised what kind of thing it might be, and the style of humour appealed to me very much. Some people thought I must have been mad to do it, because there was so much work involved, but I didn't mind because it was such fun."

Hazel recalls her Flying Circus days fondly. "They were always very generous," says Pethig, "taking us out to supper. They didn't pick and choose who they were going to be nice to - it didn't matter wh you were. Whether it was the driver, the dresser, or whoever, there was no discretion at all."

That is not to say that working on Python wasn't without some challenges. "Eric Idle might suddenly decide he wanted to be a fairy that day, and so that would have to be arranged. And when I was doing the costumes for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Graham Chapman had a habit of leaving his crown and gloves behind, so we'd have to send someone out to look for them."

HAZEL PETHIG,
A FILMOGRAPHY
  1. Fierce Creatures (1997)
  2. Photographing Fairies (1997)
  3. Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life (1993)
  4. Suddenly, Last Summer (1993) (TV)
  5. Getting It Right (1989)
  6. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
  7. "Singing Detective, The" (1986) (TV mini-series)
  8. Joshua, Then and Now (1985)
  9. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
  10. Jabberwocky (1977)
  11. The Strange Case of the End of
  12. Civilisation as We Know It (1977)
  13. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)

"On Monty Python, because anything could be needed on the day of filming, I'd have a lorry full of costumes." One lorry had literally been used as a cattle truck and the Pythons had to use it as a changing room as well. "We needed a lot, because I sometimes had to dress the crew as extras, since the budget wouldn't run to hiring actors. I dress up once or twice for a few scenes, but I'm camera-shy, so I stayed well in the background."

"Once, the team asked for a polar bear costume for a sketch, which was very difficult to get hold of, and we couldn't hire one. So we had to use a gorilla suit instead. They were very good about it, but it was clear they'd have preferred the polar bear."

ON THE INDIVIDUAL TROUPE MEMBERS

Pethig got to work, once again, with John Cleese and Michael Palin recently. This time on the set of Fierce Creatures. "It's good to work with the same people," said Pethig in a recent interview, "because you get to know their style. Terry [Gilliam]'s very visual, and once you can understand the way he works, it makes things easier. John Cleese is the opposite - more interested in the words..."

The most uncooperative of the group has, nevertheless, always been John Cleese. "Squeezing John into costume was difficult for me. He didn't like wearing costumes, and he didn't like wearing beards and moustaches. [On Python,] he used to puff himself up like a bullfrog so his costumes wouldn't fit. He'd say 'Look, I can't wear it, it doesn't fit.' I had to pummel him until he fit into the costume." On other occasions, Pethig had to make do without John's availability for costume fittings. "I'd end up trying on things myself, and estimating how much too big they were on me."


Python was always breaking down barriers that now people are benefiting from... it was great fun!

Michael Palin and Terry Jones were, on the other hand, more willing to take risks for the show. "They used to do stunts like jumping off a bridge in the middle of winter while wearing a funny costume," recalls Pethig. "They were always willing. All of them were important, but I felt that Terry and Mike, in a physical way, held Python together."

"Python was always breaking down barriers that now people are benefiting from -- not just in show business, either. They stood up for their ideas, and their vaguely anarchic, but still responsible attitudes... And it was great fun!"


Sources:

  • "Hazel Pethig - Costume Designer," Comedy Review, Red Issue, May 1996, p. 57
  • Kim "Howard" Johnson, The First 20 Years of Monty Python, St. Martin's Press, 1989, pp. 16-17, 83-86